Readings: Ex 22:20-26; 1 Thess 1:5-10; Mt 22:34-40
Love of God and love of neighbor sums up best the message of this Sunday. We recall that in the Gospel of last Sunday the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus on the question of paying or not paying taxes to Caesar. Their plan failed. In today’s Gospel the Pharisees come back for “round two” with yet another plan to trap Jesus. This time, their question is not even sincere. The question is put forward by a scholar of the law. It is about the greatest commandment of the Jewish Law. The reason for the question is that the Pharisees had categorized the Jewish code of law into 613 laws! Jesus' answer was based on the first five books of the Bible, and reduced the law into two great commandments. "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind", and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". In this response we are told what to do to be the best version of ourselves. Simply keep the greatest commandment of love. We need not worry like the Pharisees about which is the greatest commandment if we truly love God and our neighbor. But there is a radical element in Jesus’ teaching concerning the imperative to love one’s neighbor. The Jewish understanding of love of neighbor was limited to Jewish brothers or sisters. Jesus’ teaching added the aspect of compassion which extends that meaning beyond one’s nation to include everybody without exception. If anyone is hungry, then look at them with compassion and feed them. They deserve attention because that is biblical justice based on what Jesus teaches and what the Church teaches. Failure to love another person is failure to love Jesus Christ. To love another person as oneself is to love Jesus Christ. "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do unto me" (Mt. 25:31-46).
Against this background, we reflect on the first reading from the Book of Exodus, which recalls the old Jewish code of law for daily life. The passage tells us that strangers, orphans, widows and the poor in general are very special to God, and therefore must never be neglected or mistreated. It is the Lord who speaks in this passage in defense of foreigners, the widows and the orphans. We hear very harsh words regarding the way the Lord will deal with us if we neglect or mistreat them. As a worshiping community and as individual Christians, we are challenged this Sunday to take a hard look at the way we treat the less fortunate and those who are different from us. We are challenged to evaluate the way we carry out our parish social ministry. Failure to treat the poor and disadvantaged with compassion drives them away, and that has eternal consequences. In the First Letter of John the Evangelist, we are told that love of neighbor has to do with truthfulness. “If anyone says, ‘I love God’ but hates his brother, he is a liar, for whoever does not love the brother whom he sees cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 4:20). So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Our stewardship, love of God and our relationship with Christ is measured by the way we treat others. 2)We are challenged to take a hard look at the way we treat the poor, the stranger, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, and those who are different from us because of their race, culture and values. 3) The Lord deals severely with our negative attitudes and actions towards others, particularly the poor, strangers, the disadvantaged and those different from us. The good news is that the readings challenge us to seek repentance and forgiveness in order to once again be the best version of ourselves.
©2014 John S. Mbinda